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New School Leader: What Now?

New School Leader: What Now?

Simple lessons to navigate doubt, embrace challenge and lead well every day

AUTHOR : By Neil Renton

ISBN : 9781915713421

Edition No : 1

Publication : Aug 25, 2023

Extent : 222 pgs

ISBN : 9781915713438

Edition No : 1

Publication : Aug 25, 2023

Extent : 222 pgs

ISBN : 9781915713445

Edition No : 1

Publication : Aug 25, 2023

Extent : 222 pgs


Written for all school leaders and headteachers who are feeling daunted by their new role or need a little inspiration and encouragement in an existing role. Neil Renton answers that simple question - what now? - with guidance to help navigate feelings of self-doubt and overcome leadership challenges.

It is based on the author's own experience as he tells the uplifting and incredibly honest story of his leadership journey as the new headteacher of one of the largest comprehensive schools in the North of England. Neil Renton captivates you with his story, from being appointed in late 2018, leading through a pandemic, and coping with an Ofsted inspection. It examines the kinds of challenges that new leaders face and how they can be overcome, dealing with both one-off events and the every day of school leadership.

The book provides a clear focus on those first moments, months and years of being a new school leader. Its four part structure covers navigating doubt, conquering challenges, the basics of leading every day, and creating the right mindset and culture. It encourages critical reflection based on both serious and humorous stories while offering practical advice and strategies for effective educational leadership.



Part 1 Navigating doubt 

  1. Learning to carry the weight 
  2. The importance of allies 
  3. Working without praise 
  4. Plain speaking 
  5. Speaking from the heart 
  6. Decisions 
  7. U-turns 
  8. Kopfkino 
  9. Forgetting and remembering 
  10. Visibility 

Part 1 summary

Part 2 Navigating challenge 

  1. Facing significant underperformance head-on 
  2. Covering off in a crisis 
  3. Assertion 
  4. Keeping perspective 
  5. Echo 
  6. Breathing through my feet 
  7. Real courage 
  8. Inspection 
  9. Work and rest 

Part 2 summary 

Part 3 Leading every day: the basics 

  1. Curiosity 
  2. Process, not place 
  3. Smiling 
  4. Saying thank you 
  5. Questions 
  6. Visits 
  7. Feedback 
  8. Next steps 
  9. The gift of helping to cross steppingstones 
  10. The importance of preparation 
  11. Meetings 
  12. Reading 
  13. Carrying on 
  14. Restart 
  15. Moments that give perspective 

Part 3 summary 

Part 4 Leading every day: mindset and culture 

  1. The importance of goals 
  2. Little things that mean a lot 
  3. Slowly building trust 
  4. Positive narratives 
  5. Quiet ambition 
  6. The misconception of strong leadership 
  7. Benches 
  8. The self-employed mindset 
  9. The pitfall of the self-employed mindset 
  10. Threads 
  11. Tuning forks 
  12. Pipelines 
  13. Working sideways across schools 

Part 4 summary 




Neil Renton is the headteacher of a large comprehensive secondary school of over 2100 students in North Yorkshire. An experienced senior leader, he was appointed to headship just before the pandemic.    

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Your Reviews on this book

Leadership is in my opinion a much-overused term in our education system and more often than not conflated with management.  But the role of headteacher is not the one portrayed by the fictional figures found in James Hilton’s Goodbye Mr Chips, Whack-O’s Professor James Edwards or Roald Dahl’s monstrous Miss Trunchbull but one of a highly visible and accountable position in our society. In modern times it is a position holding expectations of a complex array of knowledge and skills ranging from social worker, site manager to educational visionary. 

Yet at its heart is the day-to-day need to work for and with pupils, teaching and support staff and the wider community. And despite the centrality of the role, the way we prepare our teachers to take on the role is open to question. Overnight, a teacher becomes a headteacher. 

Neil Renton’s humble and honest insight into the transition is not one that relies on an academic or philosophical take on leadership, but one that speaks from the heart about the challenges and privileges of starting out in headship. 

This highly accessible and compelling book walks the reader through the mind of a reflective, pragmatic professional stated in refreshingly plain English. This is not only something for aspiring headteachers to read, but for every person engaged in our schools and colleges to help us all to see inside the soul of a dedicated professional starting out in the role of the head of an educational institution. 

Dr Mick Walker Former Exec Director of QCDA; President CIEA; Chair EBE

In New School Leader: What Now? Neil Renton offers a refreshingly honest and open account of his initial steps as a new headteacher in one of the United Kingdom’s largest comprehensive schools. In doing so he goes a long way to demystify the role of the headteacher. This is not to play down or make this hugely significant position seem somehow easier than it might appear but rather to offer invaluable insight and advice about how to navigate the complex terrain of school leadership. That the book is underpinned by such first-hand professional knowledge and experience make it all the more powerful and purposeful. For anyone with an interest in education and, in particular, those embarking on their first leadership position within a modern day educational organisation, this is essential reading. 

Dr Paul Wilfred Armstrong Senior Lecturer in Education, University of Manchester

Something happens when you step from being a senior leader to being appointed as headteacher. Everyone tells you it will feel different, but no one can quite explain how. Neil Renton’s book does just that. From its first sentence, it presents the most authentic and powerfully articulated account of the shift that happens inside us as we take on the mantle of head or principal. I like the book’s mixture of candour, values and practical insights. I like its lack of misty-eyed sentimentalism. I like the way it focuses on the details of headship — the interactions with staff, the decision-making process, the skills involved in communicating with clarity and openness. This is no checklist of tricks and gimmicks. It’s a reassuringly honest yet optimistic reminder of the day-to-day reality of one of society’s most important roles: being a headteacher. I thoroughly recommend it.

Geoff Barton, General Secretary, Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL)

Leading a school for the first time is a little bit like setting off to sea on an inaugural voyage as the captain of a ship. Few leadership roles give you the privilege to set the course and take daily responsibility for the lives, welfare, and success of so many souls. 

Neil Renton has just been on that journey and has used his sharp and curious mind to continually reflect on the experience and the lessons learned along the way. For anyone aspiring to lead, or who has recently started out on their own leadership voyage, this is an invaluable read that will help counter some of the negative stereotypes that exist about those who lead our schools. 

You won’t find action plans, spreadsheets or checklists of how to make a school ‘outstanding’ in New School Leader, what now? What you will find are insights into establishing the right culture and key lessons about what really matters when you come to leading a school. 

I hope this book will encourage many more principled, generous, and passionate leaders to set out to sea.

Richard Sheriff OBE CEO of the Red Kite Learning Trust, ASCL past president
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